TPC at Las Colinas: Byron Nelson Tour Site Blossoms

By David R. Holland, Contributor

IRVING, TX -- When it was first ready for Byron Nelson Classic play in 1983, the Tournament Players Course at Las Colinas was about as pretty as Phyllis Diller after eight hours of pickin' cotton.

Scrawny mesquites, the predominant tree on a barren landscape, couldn't even attract a squirrel, much less provide shade for anything that moved in the hot and muggy Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex 100-degree days.

OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but compared to ultra-exclusive Preston Trail Golf Club, which hosted the GTE Byron Nelson Classic from 1968 to 1982, the fledging course on MacArthur Boulevard just didn't measure up in the beauty department.

What a difference 17 years makes. Today, the TPC at Las Colinas is almost as impressive as Miss Texas.

How'd they do it? How come the TPC at Las Colinas is in bloom? Money. Pure and simple.

In 1999 the Four Seasons Resort and Club began a $3 million enhancement to the resort golf course, which will continue until 2002. Trees? In just this year alone 781 new trees have been planted -- live oaks, bald cypress and cedar elm are some of the varieties.

For the 2000 Nelson, the 10th had a new tee box, five new bunkers and the green has more slope to it. But the major-league "new look" will come at the 18th, where a lake will be implemented into the design by 2002.

The golf course was designed by golf architect Jay Morrish, in consultation with Byron Nelson and Ben Crenshaw. Morrish's Mesa Design Group, Inc., will also be handling the enhancements through 2002.

"It's a golf course the players term very fair," said Crenshaw. "The wind is such a factor here that we tried to adjust for it by opening up the entrances to the greens."

TPC at Las Colinas was built in 12 months, an amazing feat, and opened just in time for the 1983 Byron Nelson Classic. It has 419 Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens. The resort overseeds in the winter with rye.

The transformation of the course was also boosted in 1993 when more than $1.5 in improvements included the lake at the 196-yard par-3 17th. This hole was the fourth toughest in the tournament a year ago, averaging 3.2 strokes, and frequently is instrumental in deciding the victor. The green is wide, large and has undulations. If you catch this hole when the south wind is blowing into your face at 30 m.p.h. -- good luck.

Coming home, No. 14, a par-4, 409-yarder can be birdie or a double bogey. It's hazardous. Downhill and with a slight bend to the right, you can go too far left or right and be in the trees facing a 120-yarder over water. If these problems don't get you the wind might and the green is long and narrow. Anything above the hole or even hole high can present you with danger. The pros scored 4.25 on it a year ago, toughest of the 18.

It you are frustrated after 14 then 15th was the second toughest a year ago at 4.2 strokes. It's just a long 475 yards into a prevailing cross wind. An additional 30 yards has been added to the tee and the fairway was raised 20 feet, giving it a shape that funnels right. Best tee shot is a draw with a long-iron second shot.

The finishing hole was fifth hardest for the pros in 1999. It's a par-4, 440-yard dogleg left and if you miss the fairway it's really difficult to find the green in regulation. The green is guarded by a series of bunkers and as the TPC scheme calls for -- it is set in a natural amphitheater for viewing. The Four Seasons Resort also has luxury villas surrounding the green.

The Nelson is one of a few PGA Tour events that's played on two courses. The 156-man field will also tee it up at Cottonwood Valley, switching venues on the first two days. The final two rounds are played at TPC at Las Colinas.

Cottonwood Valley, designed partly by Robert Trent Jones II and partly by Jay Morrish, is 6,846 yards at par 70. The first green is shaped like the state of Texas. Most non-native visitors have to be told not to hit it to Brownsville when the pin is located in Amarillo. That's more than 800 miles on a Lone Star map.

This year's tournament is the 47th in a series of Dallas-sponsored PGA Tournaments which dates back to 1944. The Nelson is now the 12th oldest tournament on the PGA Tour. Dallas has hosted one U.S. Open and two PGA Championships.

Don't be surprised if you see the real Byron Nelson, because he is always around during the tournament. And if you don't spot him there's a large bronze statue of Lord Byron near the first tee, providing a great photo.

The Four Seasons Resort and Hotel is only 10 minutes from the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport and spotlights luxury and championship golf.

Texas Vittles: Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse, 4030 N MacArthur Blvd, Irving, 972-650-9564. J.R. Ewing once dined here. Ok, for you Yankees once again, that's Larry Hagman, who was the star of the long-running TV series "Dallas".

Charity Wins: The Salesmanship Club of Dallas has been a part of the GTE Byron Nelson Classic since 1973. Over that time it has raised more than $52 million for its goal of improving the lives of children. Despite being one of 50 tournaments on the PGA Tour last year, the Nelson Classic and the Salesmanship Club raised more than 13.4 percent of the 1999 PGA Tour donations.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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